Is Alex Rodriguez turning into a Philip Roth character?
In 1973, Philip Roth wrote one of his lesser-known but more sprawling works of fiction, The Great American Novel. It was about a fictional third baseball league, the Patriot League, that fell apart in the 1940s amidst the Red Scare and was expunged from history. Its stars disappear from baseball record books like offending Soviet commissars from a 1930s photograph. The suspension of Alex Rodriguez for one full season, announced today, is a sign that Major League Baseball may be doing the same to the steroid era. (What? You thought this would be about Portnoy’s Complaint?)
Frederic Horowitz, the arbitrator hearing A-Rod’s appeal of his original 211 game suspension, reduced the suspension to 162 games, one full season, which is still the longest non-lifetime suspension in baseball history. This punishment could potentially end Rodriguez's career, as he's now a 38-year-old plagued by injuries. Unless his long shot case in federal courts succeeds, the Yankees star, who only played 44 games in 2013 after two different hip surgeries, will not be able to take the field in an organized baseball game until 2015. Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement mandates that a first term offender against its performance enhancing drugs policy, like Rodriguez, be suspended for 50 days. But Commissioner Bud Selig levied the unprecedented 211 game suspension because he said Rodriguez tried to obstruct baseball’s investigation.
In a statement, the Yankees star and three-time AL MVP expressed his outrage: and noted that he never actually failed a drug test.
“The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one. This is one man’s decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable.”
This news will also have big impact on the 2014 baseball season. By not having to pay Rodriguez’s $25 million salary, the Yankees will be able to get below baseball luxury tax and have money to pursue ace Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who has become a free agent this off-season. However, it also means that the Bronx Bombers will have to find a new third baseman to replace Rodriguez, who, even in his late 30s, is still one of baseball’s best manning the hot corner.
But its biggest effect will be on how baseball deals with the complicated legacy of the steroids era, which spanned over a decade in the 1990s and 2000s. All the stars of that era implicated in using performance-enhancing drugs like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been run out of baseball and have been unable to gain admittance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, Bonds suffered from a virtual fatwa after the 2007 season. Despite leading all of baseball in base percentage and putting up sterling offensive numbers while becoming the all time home run king, no team would sign Bonds, leading to accusations of collusion. He became a non-person in the eyes of organized baseball.
If Bonds and Clemens can’t make the Hall of Fame, it is unlikely that A-Rod or other greats still not yet eligible for Cooperstown (like Manny Ramirez) who have been suspended for PED use will make it. The names of an era worth of star players—Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, McGwire, Ramirez, Sosa, Palmeiro, Pettitte, Tejada and Braun—will be given a scarlet asterisk in the record books and in history. In Cooperstown, their plaques will be mysteriously absent and their achievements somehow tainted. While no one doubts that Pete Rose came by all his 4,256 hits honestly, Rodriguez’s impressive statistics feel just a little hollow, like a corked bat.
But what Rodriguez did on the field was still impressive. He was one of the greatest players of his era, if not any era. Until he was prematurely forced to move from shortstop to third base to appease the less talented but more beloved Derek Jeter, his only competition for the best to ever play the position was Honus Wagner. With his suspension, it’s likely A-Rod will never play again. He won’t be erased from baseball history but simply made a scapegoat for all the sins and excesses of the PED era and left awkwardly ignored by Cooperstown. For all of A-Rod’s faults—and the petty, petulant star had many—it is a fate undeserving of his greatness.